Green Iguana

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Natural History

Green iguanas are found naturally from central Mexico to central South America. They can also be found in several other areas, including Hawaii, Florida, and Puerto Rico, but their presence in these places was brought about by illegal importation and release. In their natural habitat, the weather includes long, sunny days and year-round warm temperatures.

One of the green iguana's intriguing features is his eyes. They are wide, round, and usually colored brown to golden or sometimes hazel or green. Green iguanas have three eyelids: an upper eyelid, a lower eyelid, and a third transparent eyelid that closes from the bottom up and aids in eye lubrication. Their mouth is large and contains dozens of tiny, diamond-shaped teeth. Each tooth is serrated and extremely sharp. A bite from a green iguana can easily cut deep into your skin.

Inside the mouth is a thick, pink, slightly forked tongue. A green iguana uses its tongue for both tasting and smelling. When he is checking out his surroundings, he will flick his tongue at an object. Then, a sensory organ in the roof of the mouth detects the scent and taste of the item. The green iguana will also use his tongue to help pick up food, as it is slightly sticky.

The green iguana's tail is another interesting part of its body. The tail is quite long, usually about three times the length of the body and helps to provide balance when walking along branches in the forest and additional power when an iguana is swimming. It can also be used defensively, in two different ways. First of all, a green iguana can use its tail like a whip, flicking any predator (or hobbyist) that gets too close. Also, these lizards can "drop" their tail, severing it at any point along its length, if it is seized in such a way that prevents their escape.

Feeding

Green iguanas are herbivores, dining exclusively on leaves, flowers, and fruits in the wild. Unfortunately, not all the plants that are available to green iguanas in their natural habitat are also available to hobbyists keeping these lizards in captivity. The best way to ensure that they are still getting the nutrition they need is to provide a varied diet, including a wide selection of vegetables and fruits. There is no reason to offer your green iguana anything other than plant matter.

A diet of vegetables, fruits, and leafy greens should be broken down as follows: one-fifth fruits, two-fifths solid vegetables, and two-fifths leafy greens. The types of these components that are offered will vary based on availability, cost, and perhaps personal preference. Keep in mind that variety is the key to a healthy diet for your iguana. Therefore, you cannot offer, say, three different vegetables, two different fruits, and a leafy green and expect your pet to stay healthy. A nutritious diet should include at least ten different items.

The following are some suggested food choices for your green iguana. It is okay to stray from this list, but you should consult a reference of food nutrient values to make sure the additional items you want to offer have a significant nutritional merit. Good choices for solid vegetables include green beans, bell peppers, snow peas, radish, okra, parsnip, squash, and asparagus. Leafy green offerings should include collard greens, mustard greens, parsley, dandelion greens, rapini, escarole, leeks, watercress, endives, and arugula. Some good fruit options are raspberries, blackberries, grapes, pears, prickly pear, figs, mangoes, and papaya.

Adding a calcium supplement powder to your green iguana's diet is highly recommended. It is very difficult to supply enough calcium to your lizard through calcium-rich foods. Therefore, a supplement should ensure that his calcium requirement is met.

You should feed your green iguana on a daily basis, if possible. Five or six feedings a week is about right for the average iguana, but the feeding frequency will depend on the amount of food that you give at each feeding and the size of the iguana. Most green iguanas, particularly adults, eat a large amount of food and will be hungry every day, especially if they get used to being fed that often. Obese iguanas are very rare, so your attention should be focused on the opposite extreme of making sure your pet is not undernourished.

Making sure water is always available for your green iguana is also important. Place a water bowl in his enclosure so that he can drink whenever he is thirsty. It is a good idea to change the water daily to keep bacteria growth at bay. Don't be concerned if your iguana doesn't seem to be drinking too much, as their vegetable-heavy diet provides a large amount of the water they require.

Housing

If you have a juvenile iguana, his housing can be as simple as a 55-gallon aquarium with a screen or grate top. However, once an iguana is about 12 months old and has grown into a sizeable adult (he may be 2 feet long by now), he will require a new setup. In the wild, adult iguanas live in trees, so they will need a tank with some height that can hold at least one taller branch.

A screened enclosure is a great choice for an adult iguana. You will find several different commercial options, available at some pet stores and online. As far as how big it should be, there really is no such thing as too space, and keep in mind that iguanas continue to grow throughout most of their lives, albeit at a very slow rate. An 6 ft x 5 ft x 2.5 ft enclosure will be suitable for quite a few years, but an adult iguana will require something larger. These largest of enclosures are difficult to find for sale, but can be built without too much difficulty.

No matter what kind of enclosure you buy or build, and whether you place it inside or out, he floor of your green iguana's cage should be covered with a substrate. This can be made out of newspaper, paper bags, or other similar materials. There are also reptile cage carpets available at pet stores. The enclosure must be big enough for the iguana to be able to climb, turn around comfortably, sleep, and eat. It should contain climbing areas, basking areas, soaking or swimming areas, feeding areas, and appropriate heating and lighting.

Iguanas feel most comfortable when they are high up, able to observe from above. When providing places to climb and perch, be creative. You can use branches, carpet squares, ropes, rubber, or a variety of other materials. Any branches should be at least as wide as the iguana's body at its widest point, and you can cut grooves into the branches or wrap them with natural rope to give your pet something to hold onto when he's climbing.

Green iguanas are cold-blooded reptiles and require heat from their surroundings to function properly. In the wild, iguanas soak up heat from the sun and their tropical surroundings, but in captivity, this heat will need to be manufactured. The cage should be kept around 86° to 90°F for at least 10 hours a day. Providing a basking spot at one end of the enclosure will allow your iguana to stay very warm or to get gradually cooler by moving away from the basking spot.

Health Care

If you are responsible for the care of a green iguana, learning about healthcare needs should be a top priority for you. If your iguana is sick or injured, you will want to know how to help him as quickly and thoroughly as possible. Here are some common ailments your green iguana may suffer from during his lifetime.

Parasites

Green iguanas can be affected by parasites, both internal and external. Symptoms of internal parasites include loss of appetite, bloating, vomiting, sudden weight loss, sluggish movements, and constipation. Internal parasites should be treated by a veterinarian, who will generally prescribe a regimen of oral or injected medication.

Mites are external parasites that often afflict green iguanas. They are tiny (a few millimeters in diameter) and difficult to spot. Mites will attach themselves to your pet, bore through his skin, and suck his blood. If many mites are present, they can work together and quickly drain a significant amount of blood, causing a lack of appetite in your pet and a weakening of his immune system. Because of the severity of the consequences of mites, if you think your pet is infected you will need to act quickly.

There are three ways to rid your green iguana of mites. First, try thoroughly bathing him, paying particular attention to the eyes, nostrils, vents, and skin folds, and housing him in a separate terrarium while you clean his home. When cleaning the terrarium, dispose of the substrate, any live plants, and other furnishings that are able to be thrown away. Any items that are kept should be wrapped in aluminum foil and placed in the oven at 275°F for two to three hours. Next, soak the terrarium in a bleach solution, letting it soak for 18 to 24 hours. Then, thoroughly rinse it and air it out.

Another method green iguana owners use to rid their pet of mites is to dip him in cooking oil (vegetable, olive, etc.). Dip him quickly, making sure his whole body is covered. Soak up any oil that remain on him, using a towel. Then, place him in a separate terrarium and clean the tank as detailed above.

One final option is to take your pet to the veterinarian. She will prescribe a mite killer that will usually need to be sprayed on both the iguana and his terrarium. This treatment should soon eradicate all mites from your dragon and his home.

Burns

Injuries are common for reptiles, probably more so than disease. Burns from a heating lamp or ceramic heater are one of the most common injuries. While some burns are minor and cause only discoloration or blistering of the skin and scales, and other burns can produce open, bleeding wounds, all burns should be seen by a vet. They must be treated for both external and internal (muscular damage) wounds and infections. Most reptile burn victims will require antibiotic injections and topical salves for a complete recovery. The best way to avoid burns is to make sure your iguana does not have direct access to a heating source.

Metabolic Bone Disease

Metabolic bone disease is caused by inadequate exposure to ultraviolet light. This ailment is painful and eventually debilitating for the lizard. Symptoms include soft jaws that are bent outward, difficulty walking, limbs that are crooked or bent, swollen thighs that are hard to the touch, and trembling or convulsing. This disease is easily prevented by allowing your green iguana to soak up enough ultraviolet rays so they can efficiently metabolize calcium and synthesize vitamin D3, which will keep their bones and teeth strong and healthy.

Handling

It should be relatively simple for you to pick up and hold your green iguana, but there is a proper technique. First, use your two hands to support the underside of the iguana, one hand under the chest area and the other around the vent area. In addition, use the hand that's supporting the vent area to support the tail. The larger the iguana is, the bigger and heavier his tail will be, so it becomes increasingly more important to provide tail support when lifting your pet.

Pay careful attention to the iguana's claws when handling him. If he is holding on to anything (a branch, cage wire, fabric, etc.), he is probably using his claws to maintain that grip. To move him, do not simply try to pull him away from whatever he is holding. Instead, gently unhook each of his claws from the object, using your fingers. This method will prevent the iguana's claws from ripping out and his legs from being injured.

Getting Started

Pets green iguanas require certain things from their natural environment to be replicated in their captive environment. By purchasing certain supplies to make this happen, you can keep your pet healthy and happy for many years. The following is a list of suggested items to help in this process:

Cage (preferably a custom cage)
Heat Source (basking light)
Lighting (full-spectrum fluorescent lighting)
Substrate
Hide Box
Water Bowl
Food (mostly leafy greens and fruit)

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